For years, dog parents have been told it is best to ignore their dog when they left home, as it helps make the separation less painless. But a new study says this conventional wisdom may be wrong.
Researchers conducted a pilot study in which 10 dogs (and seven owners) were placed in a setting away from their home – at a field where they remained leashed.
The owners and dogs participated in two different scenarios: neutral and petting. In the neutral setting, owners ignored their dog for one minute before walking away and leaving him or her with the experimenter.
In the petting condition, owners petted their dog(s) for one minute before leaving him or her with the experimenter.
In each incident, the owners walked away from their dog and hid behind a shed for three minutes.
While the owners were separated from their dog, the experimenter stood still, not engaging with the dog, during the period. During this time, researchers looked at the dog’s behavior as well as its vitals – heart rate was taken and cortisol levels were measured through saliva.
The team found through observation and testing, that the dogs were not overly stressed by the separation. (However, they did spend a long time looking for their owners.) They did find that dogs who were petted before their owner walked away exhibited more calm behaviors – sniffing the ground for more than a few seconds and laying down — than those who were ignored. Their heart rate was also lower.
Published in Journal of Veterinary Behavior, the paper concluded:
“This pilot study suggests that petting a dog before a brief separation from the owner may have a positive effect, making the dog calmer during the separation itself. Further studies are needed to analyze more in depth its effectiveness, especially in dogs affected by separation anxiety.”